The 9 best sunscreens for sensitive skin of 2024 to protect without irritation

Our tried and tested guide to the best sunscreens for sensitive skin, from lightweight fluids to thicker creams

Collage of two of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin featured in this guide from La Roche-Posay and CeraVe
(Image credit: La Roche-Posay/CeraVe/Future)

The best sunscreens for sensitive skin can be frustratingly hard to come by. There's certainly an art to creating a formula that effectively protects your skin from the sun while not irritating dry patches or breakouts, and we've been testing sunscreens for years to ensure they continue to work summer after summer. 

While sunscreens for this skin type do exist, finding them feels like a risky endeavour. "People with sensitive skin may find that some sunscreens can cause irritation, stinging, burning, and redness when applied," explains advanced aesthetic doctor, Dr Preema Vig. "The use of certain sunscreens can make conditions such as eczema and dermatitis flare up."

Despite this, using sunscreen every day – come rain or shine, indoors and outdoors – is the best way to keep your skin safe, fresh-textured and even-toned. And while many of the best face moisturisers do feature SPF, there's no substitute for a standalone sun cream for your face (because you are less likely to apply enough moisturiser to achieve adequate protection compared to a dedicated sunscreen). That's why we've tried and tested dozens of formulas to find truly the best sunscreens for sensitive skin that will protect yours without causing irritation. 

The best sunscreens for sensitive skin, tested by our experts

How we tested the best sunscreens for sensitive skin

A selection of the sunscreens we tested for this guide

A selection of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin we tested for this guide

(Image credit: Fiona McKim)

Sensitive skin types can vary significantly, so finding the best sunscreens for sensitive skin was never going to be a one size fits all situation. With this in mind, we trialled dozens of formulas for at least a day each with multiple testers with various types of skin sensitivity. During the testing process, they paid close attention to the following factors.

  • Ingredients and formulation – for example, additional skincare ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, or being non-comedogenic
  • Type of UV filters used – mineral, chemical or both
  • The SPF rating and if the formula is broad spectrum (protecting against UVA and UVB)
  • Consistency and feel of the formula 
  • Ease of application
  • How it interacted with the skin and any makeup applied over the top
  • Packaging 
  • Price and value for money

Each product in our guide made the cut because it impressed our testers based on the above criteria and is therefore deemed by us to be a reliable, enjoyable to use, shout-out worthy sunscreen for sensitive skin. 

How to choose a sunscreen for sensitive skin

There are several things to consider when it comes to picking the best sunscreen for sensitive skin, but these are the key factors, according to the experts.

  • Chemical vs physical: There are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Chemical-based sunscreens use chemicals like octinoxate, avobenzone, and oxybenzone to absorb the rays of the sun and convert them into heat. Physical sunscreens work by bouncing away the sun's UV rays from the skin's surface. "I would recommend seeking physical sunscreens," explains Dr Vig. "They are a gentler option and contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are less likely to cause irritation as chemical sunscreens do."
  • Consider fragrance-free: "Fragrance is a blanket term for essential oils and perfumes, so it’s difficult to discern exactly what ingredients are being included and how your skin may react," notes Cindy Ha, lead aesthetician at Fairmont Spa Century Plaza. Perfume in skincare can also cause allergic contact dermatitis, which manifests as red, blotchy, scaly patches that are itchy. Of course, it is possible that something else entirely may cause irritation in a non-fragranced skincare product, which is why it's always worth doing a patch test before slathering a new product all over your skin to check for any signs of a reaction. 

Do you need to wear sunscreen every day?

Yes! First and foremost, sunscreen will protect your skin from UV damage and burning, which increases your risk of skin cancer. But not only that, UV radiation also causes photoageing (accelerated skin ageing), so applying sunscreen 365 days a year will help to shield your skin and prevent this, too. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen as this term means it will protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Does sunscreen expire?

All beauty products have a shelf life and sunscreen can expire – which is important to remember as you need the active ingredients to protect your skin from the sun. Look for one of two symbols on the product packaging to tell you how long your sun cream will be in date. An open box with a number and the letter M in, e.g. "12M", means that the product needs to be used within 12 months of opening. In this case, it's a good idea to write the day you opened said sunscreen somewhere on the packaging so you can keep track.

Alternatively, a black and white egg timer symbol means that the product has a shelf life of 30 months or less, and will therefore have a use-by date printed on the packaging. If this is on the external cardboard box but not the bottle, be sure to write it on the actual product so you don't forget. That way you'll know when it's time to get rid of any expired product and purchase a new sunscreen.

Michelle Rostamian
Beauty & Shopping Writer

Michelle Rostamian is a Los Angeles-based beauty writer with 10 years of experience in the beauty industry. She began her career as a publicist, content writer, and social media manager, representing beauty brands and industry professionals. Currently, she is an editor and writer on all things makeup, beauty, skincare, and lifestyle. Michelle graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in Communications. She has bylines at Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, Allure, The Zoe Report, HelloGiggles, Yahoo, Byrdie, Well+Good, Reviewed, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, The Girlfriend, and more.